It is a complex task teaching the Holocaust to our students, of any grade level, but teaching the big, powerful, essential lessons are why we got into this profession. A structured inquiry into the history of the Holocaust provides one of the most effective subjects for students’ examinations of basic moral issues and human behavior.
But before we become overwhelmed or unsure about covering these topics, let us consult with and rely upon the experts on this period of history: the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The museum has identified topic areas for educators to cover in our classrooms studying the Holocaust, as well as helpful teaching guidelines for this sensitive material. The historians and education experts can help us identify the topic areas that will provide our students with the breadth of the history of the Holocaust, as well as context for events of the period such as antisemitism, Jewish life in Europe, the aftermath of World War I and the Nazi rise to power.
The museum’s online classroom resources are reassuring in their abundance. Every middle and high school teacher will be able to locate lessons and historical photographs, maps, film and video, images of artifacts, and testimonies that reflect the history of the period in an approach that’s grade-level appropriate and impactful. Its Holocaust Encyclopedia articles offer photos, testimonies and other artifacts for each topic.
Here are nine lessons (and more) our teacher experts have highlighted as starting points on your classroom’s journey through this period.
1. The Holocaust: A Learning Site for Students
Grade level: 6–12
The museum’s learning site is a digital hub of the Permanent Exhibition and provides a perfect starting point for students’ online explorations of the Holocaust. From a glossary of terms to the Holocaust Encyclopedia to interactive timelines of events to topics for deeper study, this online resource center belongs in the bookmarks of every student and teacher of World War II.
2. History Unfolded: U.S. Newspapers and the Holocaust
Grade level: 6–12
What did Americans living during 1933 through 1945 know about the Holocaust from reading their local newspapers? This ambitious “citizen history” project enables students and life-long learners from around the country to examine how their hometown newspapers reported on Holocaust-related events during the 1930s and 1940s. This provides an opportunity for teachers to encourage inquiry-based research and historical thinking using primary sources found in online databases, on microfilm, and even in hard copies held in local libraries, university libraries, and historical societies.
Image may be foundhere on the museum’s website.
3. Pre–World War II European Jewish Life Photo Project
Grade level: 7–12
This lesson examines the normalcy of Jewish life by finding and analyzing family photographs of an affected community before the Nazi occupation or invasion and then researching the drastic changes in that community following the Nazi rise to power. It is recommended by the teachers who developed this lesson plan that students work on this project before looking at life under Nazi rule, including the Nazi rise to power, restrictions against Jews, ghettoization and the “Final Solution.” The photographs and film about prewar Jewish life will also provide students with a view into the drastic changes in that community following Nazi rule.
Grade level: 7–12
The use of propaganda in the Nazi rise to power is crucial for students to understand. This microsite and interactive exhibit are organized into seven themes, allowing students to grasp the sophisticated and multi-pronged attack on both human lives and human consciousness. Teachers might find it beneficial to organize students individually or in small groups to make an in-depth examination of a single artifact of propaganda and then present to the class. Classes can also see the evolution of Nazi propaganda through watching The Path to Nazi Genocide chapter “From Citizens to Outcasts” for further context.
5. Some Were Neighbors: Collaboration and Complicity in the Holocaust (Photo Activity)
Grade level: 7–12
Through this lesson, students see the behaviors of ordinary individuals so that they may think about the pressures and motives that might have shaped these behaviors. Students examine photographs from the Holocaust, first without a caption and then with a caption, and will view the behaviors of ordinary individuals in the persecution of others. Students will learn that the range of actions necessary to carry out the Holocaust is much more extensive than previously realized or understood, and that genocide does not just happen on its own.
Image foundhere on the museum’s website.
6. Confronting the Holocaust: American Responses
Grade level: 7–12
How did the American public, government and military respond to the growing Nazi threat abroad? This video and accompanying resources provide a study of two seminal events in Holocaust history involving the United States: when the MS St. Louis set sail from Germany, feeling Nazi persecution, and when more than 400,000 Jews were deported from Hungary to German killing centers. By looking at these two events, we can learn today from American action and inaction in the face of a refugee crisis and examine the warning signs of genocide. These examples from the Holocaust encourage reflection on contemporary cases of genocide.
7. Personal Histories
Grade level: 9–12
The museum states in its teaching guidelines that portraying the people of the Holocaust in the fullness of their lives and not just as victims is essential. First-person accounts and individual voices fulfill that aim. The oral histories of survivors in the Personal Histories section make for the most powerful of primary sources, as well as unforgettable narratives for teachers to share with students digitally. Additionally, the First Person Podcast Series features excerpts from 48 interviews with Holocaust survivors that are searchable for particular historical themes.
Image may be found here on the museum website.
8. Never Again: Heeding the Warning Signs
Grade level 7–12
What can we learn from Holocaust history to ensure that it does not happen again? Dissecting the warning signs of 1938 provides historical context. Using this video and teaching materials, classrooms will explore the pivotal year before Nazi Germany invaded Poland and launched World War II. Students will examine how countries responded, and whether intervention could have saved lives. Students can also discuss how those actions relate to modern events of injustice worldwide.
9. Ethical Leadership
Grade level: 11–12
Many people mistakenly believe the Holocaust was carried out by Hitler and a few Nazis. However, a crime of such enormous scope and scale, with millions of victims across vast geographical territory, required help from countless ordinary individuals. The museum developed two sophisticated educational modules on the topics of Conformity and Rationalization that will help teachers and older high school students explore how these challenges to ethical behavior and leadership played out in the context of the Holocaust. These modules pose larger questions about how these challenges confront us today. Both modules contain a PowerPoint presentation, film, teacher discussion guide and syllabus of additional materials. This lesson is critical for students examining how to confront genocide in modern times.
Lesson PlansBack to lesson plans archiveMay 3, 2016
Holocaust Remembrance Day Lesson Plans and Activities
May 5, 2016, is Holocaust Remembrance Day or Yom HaShoah. The following collection is designed to provide teachers with rich and meaningful resources on the Holocaust, engaging lesson plans and information to help students take steps to move forward without forgetting the past.
1. Recommended online institutions
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum inspires citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity. The museum promotes the responsible teaching of the Holocaust through a variety of resources and programs to help the nation’s educators increase their knowledge of Holocaust history and implement sound teaching strategies.
As the Jewish people’s living memorial to the Holocaust, Yad Vashem safeguards the memory of the past and imparts its meaning for future generations. Established in 1953, as the world center for documentation, research, education and commemoration of the Holocaust, Yad Vashem is today a dynamic and vital place of inter-generational and international encounter.
IWitness brings the first-person stories of survivors and witnesses to genocide from the USC Shoah Foundation’s The Institute for Visual History and Education archive to teachers and their students via multimedia-learning activities that encourage critical thinking, self-reflection, and help students understand the profound impact their words and actions can have on others.
2. Holocaust questionnaire
This powerful 10-question quiz gives students an opportunity to decide “what would they do” in the shoes of someone persecuted for their faith. Use it as a quick activity or as a warm up for deeper conversation.
3. 36 questions about the Holocaust answered
Use this unique and informative resource to help answer students’ questions about the Holocaust from the Simon Wiesanthal Museum of Tolerance.
4. Timeline of events
Use this timeline filled with images and videos from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to help students gain context and perspective on the events that took place starting from just prior to 1933 to events that took place after 1945.
5. Documentary | The path to Nazi genocide
This 38-minute film from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum examines the Nazis’ rise and consolidation of power in Germany. Using rare footage, the film explores their ideology, propaganda and persecution of Jews and other victims. It also outlines the path by which the Nazis and their collaborators led a state to war and to the murder of millions of people.
6. Documentary | The Story of the Jews
“The Story of the Jews”is a five-part documentary series created by renowned historian Simon Schama in collaboration with the BBC and PBS that chronicles the epic journey of the Jewish people from antiquity to the present day. Use these PBS Learning Media resources designed for the classroom to accompany the film.
1. Holocaust assessing responsibility and conscience
This lesson plan helps students to analyze the different roles played by those involved in the Holocaust and aims to provide students with the opportunity to realize the individual and total impact of their actions.
2. Heidi’s dilemma
This lesson plan puts students in the position of a Dutch teenage girl who must make a decision whether to help save her friend or to abandon her. Within the lesson are both individual and group activities that culminate in a written assignment.
3. Lidice & Lezaky : Their stories through stamps
This lesson reveals the haunting story of the towns of Lidice and Lezaky – both who were razed to the ground by Nazis told through commemorative stamps. Students will examine actual images of the stamps to unlock the story of these two sites of devastation.
4. Poetry of the Holocaust
These poetry resources have been provided by the North Carolina Civic Eduation Consortium (NCCEC). Please see pages 10 – 13 for poems and activities including “Hangman” by Maurice Ogden and “First They Came for the Jews” by Pastor Martin Niemöller. For more resources on the Holocaust from NCCEC please click here.For poetry focusing on children and the Holocaust please click here.
5. Righteous Among the Nations: Rescuers of the Holocaust
The Holocaust was one of the darkest times in recorded history, yet there were acts of courage and resistance that shown like a beacon of hope in a sea of despair and grief. Both Jews and non-Jews risked their lives to save others and this lesson explores those given the title “Righteous Among the Nations” for their acts of bravery and self sacrifice. This research-based lesson will help students to identify and connect with those who decided not to be a bystander, but instead become a hero.
6. Lesson plan and film | One survivor remembers: antisemitism
This lesson plan, created by Teaching Tolerance, educates students about of Antisemitism, explores the use of propaganda and stereotypes, makes students aware of Holocaust denial and makes connections to current-day antisemitism, racism, prejudice and bigotry. This lesson was made to compliment the film “One Survivor Remembers” which has been made available online streaming in cooperation with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and HBO.
1. Resource | Confront anti-Semitism
Use this engaging resource from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to bring students’ attention to the ongoing problem of anti-Semitism faced by Jews around the world and how they can help become part of the solution to end it.
2. Documentary | Worse than War
Use this documentary from Daniel Goldhagen and PBS to help students understand genocide so that they do not grow up to become bystanders. Goldenhagen uses personal interviews to illuminate the story of genocide in the 20th century. “Facing History and Ourselves” provides a rich educator resource guide to accompany the film.
Day of RemembranceHolocaustJudaismReligionsocial justiceSocial Studies